Zhen Hao Liew's research addresses the key inquiry question of how the mobilities of Chinese individuals and collectives were managed during the colonial period. Specifically, this connective and comparative study that spans the sites and territories in maritime Southeast Asia examines how British and Dutch colonial management of Chinese mobilities co-constituted colonial power and overseas Chinese migration in the region. The research into ‘carceral spaces’ extends beyond the formal spaces and legal procedures associated with the criminal justice system to examine specific spatial sites that adopted the logic of confinement and were central for Chinese migrant labour. Considering the complex interplay between the actors involved, including the colonial governments, European companies and Chinese labour recruitment networks, it examines how these mobilities were circumscribed and disciplined in these spaces. The colonial management of the mobility of Chinese migrants did not merely conform to the global history of migration control in the twentieth century; it involved the forced movement of Chinese in ‘punitive mobilities’. The banishment and repatriation of criminalised groups of Chinese to China served the colonial establishment’s security and financial concerns. By not assuming the self-evident nature of colonial identifiers of ‘deportees’ and ‘repatriates’, the research also pays attention to the historical racialisation of punitive mobilities and how this subsequently influenced the colonial construction of Chinese subjectivities. This research re-examines the history of Chinese migration by highlighting the specific local conditions that mediated the mobility of Chinese peoples across different locales and the trans-local connections that linked the processes across different sites and scales. From a regional perspective, the carceral spaces and punitive mobilities thus reveal a ‘carceral network’— centred around the mediation of migrants’ inter- and intra-imperial movements across the British and Dutch spheres.
Zhen Hao Liew
Zhen Hao Liew is visiting IIAS in February 2024 as a Guest Researcher.